There is much controversy as to whether the foods a woman eats while nursing can cause allergies, asthma, or intestinal discomfort in her baby. The idea that foods you eat may cause sensitivities or fussiness in your baby is strong in popular culture, but in reality fussiness is a normal part of being a baby, and the foods you eat have much less effect than you may think. Evidence does suggest that some cases of colic -- persistent long-term crying spells and irritability -- may be eased by cutting cowâ€™s milk out of the motherâ€™s diet. Gas is absolutely normal for babies, but if yours has excessive gas and discomfort, you can try cutting back on foods that typically cause gas and bloating in you.
Breast-feeding has been linked with lower rates of allergic diseases in infants, including food allergies. But for babies who have a family history of food allergies or allergic disease, itâ€™s often recommended that breast-feeding mothers cut back on common allergens such as cowâ€™s milk, eggs, or peanuts, which can find their way into breast milk. However, a review of several studies that examined allergen- restricted diets during nursing found that eczema was the only condition that showed any noticeable reduction from a restricted diet.
A small percentage of babies experience a marked change in behavior or a health problem after their mothers eat certain foods. If you notice symptoms such as rash, wheezing, severe irritability, intestinal upset, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, or other acute health problems after a feeding, it may be a sign of food allergy. Cut the suspected food from your diet for a couple of weeks to see if the symptoms go away. Make sure you are making up for any nutrients you lose from the restricted foods, because your nutrition can potentially be compromised by removing important protein sources from your diet.Things to Avoid While Breast-Feeding
During the period when you are breast-feeding, your baby is exposed to any potentially harmful agents that find their way into your milk. Some causes for concern include these:
- Alcohol. Alcohol shows up in breast milk. Breast-feeding moms should avoid alcohol except for a small occasional drink, and they should avoid nursing for two hours after the drink.
- Caffeine. Caffeine also travels into breast milk and has been known to cause signs of agitation and sleeplessness in babies, so itâ€™s best to limit caffeine to the equivalent of one or two small cups of coffee a day.
- Smoking. If you were a smoker and quit for your pregnancy, itâ€™s in your and your babyâ€™s best interest to avoid starting again. Nicotine and other chemicals make their way into breast milk, secondhand smoke is a known carcinogen for babies, and smoking is dangerous for your health. Smoking increases your risk of dying of cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, and a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that smoking reduces womenâ€™s lives by nearly fifteen years.
- Some medications. Most medications are fine to take when breast-feeding, but there are some that may have an effect on a baby, especially certain treatments for mental disorders. Itâ€™s important to talk to your doctor about any medications you take, as there may be safer alternatives that allow you to continue breast-feeding.
- Fish and mercury. Lactating women should continue following the same guidelines as pregnant women for avoiding high mercury levels in fish.
What a woman eats during pregnancy can have an important effect on her health and the health of her baby -- even when the baby becomes an adult. For more information on nutrition during and after pregnancy for yourself and your baby, read The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating During Pregnancy.
ÂYou can find the following related article on Gather:
Choosing to Breast-Feed or Bottle-Feed
How Lactation Works
Tips for Breast-Feeding
Benefits of Breastfeeding and the Misconceptions of Nursing